Classic Photographs Are Made In The Camera; They’re Simply Raised To A Higher Level In The Darkroom—Be It The Traditional Or Digital Kind
Monte Zucker• Posted Sept 1, 2005
Making black and white photographs in the darkroom was never as exciting as it is now on the computer. I spent many years developing my own negatives and making prints. I settled for a lot less quality then than I'm getting now from my digital images. Plus, there is absolutely no waste. If I'm not happy with the results I simply go back a few steps in Photoshop and redo what I don't like.
I usually don't shoot in black and white. I usually shoot in color, large JPEGs. (Everyone is trying to talk me into shooting raw, so I'll probably succumb shortly.) I usually change the color to black and white when I feel that the color seems to interfere with the final picture. There are times, however, when I shoot with my Canon camera that has been adapted to shoot infrared (www.irdigital.net). I do this mostly outdoors when my photographs will include sunlit green trees and grass. The effect is so spectacular and so easy to achieve that it's almost like shooting with a point-and-shoot camera.
Recently during a conference in New York City I wanted to make some photographs that weren't "typical." This park beside one of New York's most famous churches was a perfect spot for my infrared camera.
You wouldn't think that a beach would be a place for black and white photography, but that's exactly why I tried it during a class in Mexico. I wanted to create something different. The extreme tonal range in the black and white still kept detail throughout the entire picture--from the light bathing suits to the dark sky and water that was reflecting the sky's color.
Fortunately, they didn't have to wait for me to process the pictures in a darkroom. After seeing just this first picture I had them in the palm of my hands. They did whatever I requested without question. They were flipping out at what they considered some of the greatest pictures they had ever seen.
My next location was inside a stone building where people were allowed to cook on grills. The building afforded cover overhead. There was direct sunlight coming in. I had two photographers hold up a Westcott translucent panel to soften the strong, direct light to soft, diffused light.
Now, in my digital Photoshop (CS) darkroom, I use Image/Adjust/Shadow and Highlights. What a difference it usually makes, opening up all the dark tones just enough to show the detail for which I'm looking. I have the default for the shadows set to 13.
I explained to everyone that this first picture was not a picture of the couple. It was, instead, a picture using the couple as scale to show the height of the trees. This picture and all that were created by me that evening were done with my infrared camera.
Going outside again I saw a nearby tree that offered a great frame for one of my typical poses. I leaned the young lady on the branch in the foreground and turned her face to profile. I adjusted her face for my regular lighting pattern. Then, the sun came out again, making it impossible to photograph the scene without her squinting her eyes. Once more we used the translucent panel to soften the light. To complete the picture I placed the young man behind her, turning his face toward the light rather than turning his face toward her and lighting up the back of his head.